logo



Habitual driving offender law repealed

Becky Campbell • Jul 28, 2019 at 8:37 PM

Of the nearly 12,000 people in Tennessee who are classified as a Habitual Motor Offender and can’t legally drive — including 186 in Washington County —  only 58 are eligible for immediate reinstatement after legislature abolished the law July 1.

Of those 58 eligible statewide, only five in Upper East Tennessee — including two Washington County residents — can now petition the court for reinstatement. But, the process through the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security won’t be ready for revoked drivers to seek reinstatement. And the law doesn’t allow anyone classified as an HMO to just start legally driving again.

“If you are currently declared a habitual motor vehicle offender, the repeal does not automatically reinstate your license and it is still illegal to drive until you petition a court and get an order to allow your license to be reinstated,” according to Wes Moster, TDOS director of communications.

“This process is on hold until our department implements its process for reinstatement, but will begin no later than January 1, 2020,” he said.

What is an HMO?

Being classified as a habitual motor vehicle offender didn’t happen with just a speeding ticket here or there. It required a certain number of convictions within a specific time frame.

“There are certain types of offenses required to become an HMO,” said Assistant District Attorney General Tessa Lunceford, the DUI prosecutor for the 1st Judicial District.

Some of the most serious offenses include DUI, vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a crash and drag racing. But there was more required than a single conviction.

Lunceford said offenders had to have:

  • Three convictions on qualifying offenses during a three-year period, or
  • Three convictions during a five-year period or
  • Five convictions in a 10-year period.

Tennessee’s now abolished law on HMO:

Any person who, during a three-year period, is convicted in a Tennessee court or courts of three or more of the following offenses; any person who, during a five-year period, is convicted in a Tennessee court or courts of three or more of the following offenses; or any person who, during a 10-year period, is convicted in a Tennessee court or courts of five or more of the following offenses; provided, that if the five- or 10-year period is used, one of the offenses occurred after July 1, 1991:

  • Voluntary manslaughter resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle.
  • Vehicular homicide.
  • Involuntary manslaughter resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle.
  • Vehicular assault.
  • Violating school bus warning lights when meeting or overtaking buses.
  • Failure to stop at the scene of an accident resulting in injury or death.
  • Failure to stop at the scene of an accident resulting only in damage to a vehicle driven or attended by any person.
  • Failure to prohibit intoxicated or drugged persons from driving or being in physical control of any automobile or other motor vehicle.
  • Aggravated vehicular homicide.
  • Adult driving while impaired.
  • Reckless driving.
  • Drag racing.
  • Evading arrest in a motor vehicle.
  • Reckless endangerment by use of a motor vehicle.
  • Driving on a cancelled, suspended or revoked license if the underlying offense resulting in the cancellation, suspension or revocation.

“The initial imposition of and HMO was for three years, and any violations of that would be a criminal offense,” Lunceford said. “At the conclusion of that three years, they could petition the court to have that removed. If they didn’t do that and they committed a driving offense ... that would be a Class E felony.”

Once a petition to lift the HMO order was on file in court, the prosecutor’s office would review the case to see if they would oppose the motion or not.

“If they haven’t picked up any new violations, most of the time we would not oppose it. If we did oppose it, there would be a hearing on it,” she said. The punishment was a $50 fine, court costs — which could run several hundreds of dollars — and the person could get prison time.

Lunceford said one concern about the law abolishing HMO would be that the person has other charges.

“Most of the time when someone has an HMO they have other charges as well. Those have to be cleared up before they can legally drive. We do have concerns about those people,” she said. “For someone to get to the point they’re an HMO, we’re not talking just  speeding tickets. You’re dealing with people who are convicted of very serious driving offenses.

“They’re doing something to get pulled over .... now there’s not going to be a mechanism to punish people if they continue to drive in an unsafe manner,” she said.

Why are so few people eligible for reinstatement? Well, according to Lunceford, most people classified as an HMO have other offenses that would prevent them from getting their license back.

Moster said, “The Department of Safety and Homeland Security worked with the sponsors of the bill prior to passage so the intent of the sponsors could be fully implemented.”

The process for eligible HMO status citizens to get their license back isn’t fully in place.

“If you are currently declared a habitual motor vehicle offender, the repeal does not automatically reinstate your license and it is still illegal to drive until you petition a court and get an order to allow your license to be reinstated,” Moster said.

“This process is on hold until our department implements its process for reinstatement, but will begin no later than January 1, 2020. Drivers declared HMVO previously had a three-year license revocation and were required to obtain a court order to reinstate driving privileges at the end of the three-year period. This has not changed as a court order is still required to reinstate. The change effective no later than 01/01/2020 allows drivers who have served less than a three-year license revocation for HMVO to obtain a court order and reinstate early.”

Quick facts on the repeal of the Motor Vehicle Habitual Offenders Act:

  • Under current law, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-20-6, the Motor Vehicle Habitual Offenders Act outlines the procedure for individuals convicted of certain driving offenses within certain frequencies to reach MVHO status. MVHO status results in the loss of the offender’s driver license and a class E felony.
  • This legislation repeals the MVHO Act and authorizes individuals whose driver license was revoked or restricted due to the MVHO Act prior to July 1, 2019, to petition the court for reinstatement of such driver license. If the court determines the revocation or restriction was due solely to the MVHO Act, the court is required to order reinstatement of such license.
  • Based on information provided by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, any impact on the department resulting from the reissuance of driver licenses under the provisions of this legislation is estimated to be not significant.
  • This legislation removes a violation of MVHO as one qualifier for an individual to be charged with aggravated vehicular assault.
  • Any impact to state incarceration costs resulting from the proposed legislation relative to aggravated vehicular assault convictions is estimated to be not significant.
  • Based on information provided by DOC, there has been an average of 153 admissions for offenses under the MVHO Act each year over the last five years.
  • According to the DOC, the average operating cost per offender per day for calendar year 2019 is $73.18.
  • The average time served for a Class E felony is 1.28 years or 467.52 days.
  • Repealing the Act will result in a recurring decrease in state incarceration expenditures estimated to be $5,234,606 (153 admissions x 467.52 days x $73.18).
Johnson City Press Videos